SA could become dumping ground for ‘dirty engine’ vehicles

South Africa risks becoming the dumping ground for COpolluting internal combustion engine vehicles if it does not keep up with global trends by transforming to smart mobility.

Siemens Mobility South Africa CEO Kevin Pillay said on Wednesday that from 2025 a lot of cities will start doing away with combustion engine vehicles, with big markets like the UK and France stopping the use of combustion engine vehicles by about 2040.


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Pillay said South Africa definitely stands the risk of becoming a dumping ground for these vehicles if it is not progressing like the world and investing in smart mobility and intelligent infrastructure.

“To avoid that, we have to forecast what is going to happen, put out a plan, do the transformational changes that we need … to get on par [with the developed world] on this so we can do it in a nice staged approach.

“If it doesn’t happen, think logically what will happen. You will have markets like the first world markets … [that] will sell at better prices to other markets who need to purchase it.

“They are not going to just kill it and have a massive loss from it,” he said during a webinar discussion about smart mobility hosted by CNBC Africa and the Gautrain Management Agency (GMA).

Pillay added that combustion engine vehicles accounted for about 98% of the vehicle market in 2015 but this will decline to about only 45% by about 2037 or 2040.

The best advice he can give from a technology investment perspective is to invest in what is valuable in the future, which is in the smart mobility concept and all the smart technologies, he said.

A good example

Pillay added that the Gautrain is probably South Africa’s best example of smart mobility.

The government is assessing the planned multi-billion rand expansion of the Gautrain rapid rail project in terms of its new infrastructure development methodology and is in the process of engaging with stakeholders about the project.

Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille confirmed in August that the government is assessing the planned multi-billion rand expansion of the Gautrain rapid rail project in terms of its new infrastructure development methodology and is in the process of engaging with stakeholders about the project.

GMA chief operating officer Tshepo Kgobe said on Wednesday the GMA has defined smart mobility as an effective and efficient mobility system using appropriate technology.

However, Kgobe said he saw the fact that South Africa is lagging the world in the adoption of smart mobility solutions as an opportunity rather than a challenge.

Chance to leapfrog other countries

Kgobe referred to a study done by the International Association of Public Transport in about 2015 which showed that the countries that are lagging behind have the opportunity to “right the wrongs” of what has happened in other countries where smart mobility has been implemented wrongly.

“I’m not saying we are on the right track but there is a window of opportunity to leapfrog the rest of the countries that are sort of in the middle and join the big league with Hong Kong and everybody else who is doing very well,” he said.

Kgobe said countries in Africa should not play the wrong role in the fourth industrial revolution by creating jobs in other countries rather than in their own countries, importing skills rather than developing skills in their own countries and failing to have a long term legacy in implementing their smart mobility strategy.

He said the biggest challenge with the government currently is not that it does not have a plan to do this but the need to have senior leaders in this space to start guiding programmes in the right direction.

“The more we can get momentum in building senior leadership in developing our technology, we are going to find that we have the ability to leapfrog,” he said.

Cities that ‘free the potential of everyone’

Mathetha Mokonyama, impact area manager: transport systems and operations at the CSIR, said a smart city is a city that frees the potential of everyone and the transport system is there to unlock that potential.

Mokonyama said engineers and technologists tend to be supply-driven but there is a need for a social compact and agreement on “what success looks like in the built environment”.

He said plans must not be forced because you want them to defend the plans, adding that communities will never go against plans once they see the potential of them because everybody wants to live in a prosperous society.

However, Mokonyama said the pace at which South Africa is moving is far slower than the rate of change that is happening globally and in the opposite direction of policy.

Pillay added that from a socio-economic perspective, South Africa has little choice but to invest in smart mobility.

He referred to a report published by the GMA in 2019, which forecast that the population in Gauteng will grow to about 18.7 million in 2037.

“That is probably an increase of four to five million people, which means the number of cars on the road will double,” he said.

Too many private vehicles

“We cannot build infrastructure efficiently and fast enough to support it. There is no other option. Smart mobility has to happen and it has to happen with speed now.”

Thembani Moyo from the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Johannesburg, said the problem is that there are too many private vehicles on the road currently and initially there is a need to try and ensure that existing public transportation is attractive enough for the general public to use.

Moyo said this did not necessarily mean doing away with taxis because with their spatial network, if anyone wants to travel anywhere in the City of Johannesburg, they know that if they get into a taxi they will be able to get to their destination.

“Minibus taxis should be integrated into the future developments. They could act as the feeder system into this larger network that exist, like the Gautrain,” he said.

Kgobe said the GMA has taken a key decision that none of its new services to provide “last mile services” will be done by bus.

“We will all do it through minibuses and contract the taxi associations into the work that we do,” he said.